In context: Dave Brat's comments to jailed addicts

U.S. Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., is attracting wide attention for comments he made to incarcerated addicts, relating their struggles in recovery to his strife seeking reelection.

"You think you’re having a hard time, I’ve got $5 million worth of negative ads going at me," Brat said during an Oct. 17 meeting with addicts at Chesterfield County Jail. "How do you think I’m feeling?"

The congressman complained that his daughter has to "deal with that crap on TV every day, right? So it’s tough."

Moments later, Brat acknowledged to the inmates, "You’ve got it hard, I’m not dismissing that.

Brat’s comments came after a female addict spoke about her fear of leaving jail, where she’s receiving addiction treatment. Chesterfield Sheriff Karl Leonard told Brat that the county needs money to ensure that addicts, when they leave the jail and its treatment program, can go to a "safe place."

The congressman also offered advice to the inmates on how to stay clean when they leave jail, urging them to seek support systems.

Brat’s opponent this fall, Democrat Abigail Spanberger, issued a written statement on Oct. 17 denouncing his comments at the jail. "These comments are disturbing and damaging in the way that they belittle and trivialize addiction and the challenges facing those in recovery," she wrote.

We decided to publish a transcript of the jail exchange so readers can get the full context of Brat’s remarks and draw their own conclusions on them. They come from a tape recorded by Ben Paviour, a reporter at WCVE Radio in Richmond, the sponsor of PolitiFact Virginia.

Inmate: I don't want everything that I have accomplished and like just to go down the drain. So, I have a goal and I have a fear because going to school, going to my meetings, you know, (unintelligible) and all that is combining and it's too much for me.

Brat:  It's overwhelming, right?

Inmate: I got to get to this place, but how can I drive and not have a license?

Brat: Right.

Inmate: You know, then I have a recovery house that I'm going to that’s paid for 90 days, and now I’m trying to think once my 90 is days up, what am I going to do?

Brat: Right.

Inmate: Like even doing the right things for the right reasons. Everything will be OK. But what is my life after my 90 days? What’s going to happen? So, I have a fear of that, also,

Brat: Right.

Inmate: So, I’m just...this is overwhelming.

Leonard: I could do 90 days, and I do 90 days. I can’t do 180 days. I need to have that funding to keep them in a safe place...

Brat: Right.

Leonard: ...and that where we're looking for this funding because it's very important for them to have a safe place. You can't go back to the same people, places and things, or you’re going to fail.

Brat: Right.

Leonard: Often I tell them when they leave here, `You can't go back home because that's where there’s  problems.' And their answer is, `Well, where do I go, Sheriff?’

Brat: You all agree with that?

(audience voices agreement)

Brat: I learned when he (Leonard) said that. I didn’t know that, but then it just makes perfect sense. Right? Ask my daughter. You think you’re having a hard time, I’ve got $5 million worth of negative ads going at me. How do you think I’m feeling? Right? Nothing’s easy. For anybody.

You think I’m a congressman and oh, life’s easy, this guy’s off having steaks. Baloney! I’ve got a daughter. She’s got to deal with that crap on TV every day. Right? So it’s tough.

Anyone that thinks...No one out there’s got some easy life. Right? And you’ve got it hard, I’m not dismissing that. Right? You’ve got some fears; real anxieties coming with a job or whatever. And what you’ve got to find is a support system. Right? You’ve got to find a substitute for drugs. Whether you get exercise or academics, reading books, going to the Bible, you’ve got to find some substitute for the drugs. Right? Instead of going back to that.

And then you get a support system: A church or a basketball team or a sports thing or something. Get some group, right, or the sheriff, These are some great law enforcement, everyone back there. So he's our friend, right there. Awesome guy.

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